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Sorefi, A.R. (1995). Narcissism: A View from Infant Research. Ann. Psychoanal., 23:49-77.

(1995). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 23:49-77

Narcissism: A View from Infant Research

Alice Rosen Sorefi, M.A.

Infant research of the last few decades provides an opportunity for a new look at psychoanalytic theory. This relatively new body of empirical data lends itself particularly well to a reassessment of etiological factors. In this essay, I will discuss the implications of infant research for the etiology and treatment of adult pathological narcissism. I will propose an empirically based revision of prevailing theory and will review and synthesize the infant data that supports that revision.

Healthy psychological development depends upon the unimpeded maturation of two innate, preprogrammed motivational thrusts: one is attachment/love; the other, mastery. Both are highly interrelated, and both continue to evolve throughout the lifespan (subject to the limitations of physical and psychological perturbations). If relatively undisrupted by these perturbations, infants tend to proceed along a healthy developmental course, culminating in competence and mature object relating.

There is a primary psychological base that underlies the success of these developments. The infant's experience of this base would be a rudimentary equivalent of the adult experience: “I love, I am loved, and I am effective.” If this primary experience is facilitated by the infant's genetic endowment, by his intrauterine conditions, and by the fit with and sufficiency of his caregiving environment, the foundation is set for the individual to sense that he is valuable the way he is. He will also sense that the world is generally “good” as it is and that he fits in the world, as he is.


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